An Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta
Department of Education and Science
Subject Inspection of English
53 Saint Stephens Green, Dublin 2
Roll number: 60820E
Date of inspection: 6 March 2008
Report on the Quality of Learning and Teaching in english
This report has been written following a subject inspection in Loreto College, St Stephens Green. It presents the findings of an evaluation of the quality of teaching and learning in English and makes recommendations for the further development of the teaching of this subject in the school. The evaluation was conducted over two days during which the inspector visited classrooms and observed teaching and learning. The inspector interacted with students and teachers, examined students’ work, and had discussions with the teachers. The inspector reviewed school planning documentation and teachers’ written preparation. Following the evaluation visit, the inspector provided oral feedback on the outcomes of the evaluation to the principal and subject teachers. The board of management of the school was given an opportunity to comment on the findings and recommendations of the report; the board chose to accept the report without response.
All junior cycle class groups have four English lessons each week and Transition Year (TY) class groups have three English lessons each week. This is satisfactory provision. Provision improves in fifth and sixth year, as class groups have five English lessons each week. Students are placed in mixed-ability groupings from first year through to sixth year and this manner of placement was observed to be appropriate for the student cohort. The vast majority of students sit higher-level English in their state examinations. The school provides a separate teacher in sixth year to teach any student wishing to take ordinary level, even though numbers doing ordinary level are very low. Good practice occurs in that management endeavours to retain the same teacher for each class group throughout junior cycle and from fifth year into sixth year.
Students in the college benefit from a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English. Students are brought to the theatre to see dramatisations of texts on their course and to see other plays of interest. They are also brought on trips to other relevant exhibitions, are entered for various writing competitions, for the Yeats Aloud poetry recital competition and have opportunities to write for school publications. In addition, there is a strong culture of debating and public speaking developed in the school. Students have opportunities to participate in in-class debates and in external competitions, and a debating club is run in the school. Such opportunities for students are commended. TY students can opt to study modules on Drama and Debating, which are modules that complement English.
There is a library, called the resource centre, in the school which is very well stocked with a range of books, DVDs and other publications. The library is well organised by two librarians working in a job-sharing capacity. There was evidence that the library is central to the life of the school. English teachers bring their first-year and second-year class groups there approximately once a fortnight to choose books for personal reading. Events, such as World Book Week, are celebrated in the library and in the English classrooms. A commendable recent innovation is that all TY students must read a minimum of ten books during their TY; one of these must be in Irish and another in a modern European language and students must present ten reviews of these books.
A budget is available for English. Televisions, DVD players, overhead projectors and CD players were in evidence in classrooms and observed to be well used. There is a designated press for storage of common resources and there is an inventory available of English resources. The library stores much material relevant to English. To build on this good practice, it is suggested that a shared electronic English folder be created on the school’s computer network to store useful notes created by teachers on various aspects of the course. All syllabuses and key documents pertaining to English are stored together for all teachers to access which is commended.
English teachers have applied for the acquisition of a data projector for use in English lessons. This is commended as there are many opportunities for use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the English classroom. Already, some teachers bring students to the resource centre, which also houses computers, so that students can type up and edit their work, design newspaper reports and generally work in a creative way. The English department has created a list of useful websites and has developed an e-learning policy which states its plans for ICT development for the subject. This is very much commended. In addition, the department is planning to establish an English section on the school website, which, among other things, will provide students with opportunities to review and recommend books and display their work.
English teachers have worked together to develop an excellent common plan for the teaching and learning of English to all year groups. This plan informs the practice of all teachers. The overall aims of the English department are highly commended. There is a strong focus on developing the personal proficiency of each student in language and on developing the skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening and there was evidence that these aims are being realised. The plan for each year group is written in terms of learning outcomes that students should be able to achieve in developing each of these four skills and in studying different aspects of the syllabuses. Therefore, all students in all class groups cover the same topics although texts vary from class to class. Of note in the plan, is the strong emphasis on encouraging students’ personal response, on drafting and redrafting work and on developing oral skills. The latter is addressed through discussion, debating and making presentations on a chosen topic. The plan developed for each year group ensures an incremental approach to learning in that skills learned in each year group build on those skills learned the previous year.
The English department plan covers other issues including provision for teaching students with special educational needs. Some students receive extra one-to-one tuition for support in certain subject areas. The plan outlines various strategies for differentiation and displays a strong awareness of how to meet the needs of less able students and the desire to ensure that all students regardless of their particular needs are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The position of co-ordinator of English is rotated among teachers of English which is good practice as it means that all teachers will have to take responsibility for convening meetings and helping to develop the subject. There was evidence that English is very well co-ordinated at present. Management provides time for English teachers to meet and teachers also arrange to meet together, for example at lunchtime. Minutes are recorded of all meetings so that key decisions are documented.
There was evidence of very good collegiality and very strong support for each other among the English teachers in the school. It was reported that English teachers discuss methodologies and share ideas on a constant basis and this collaboration is highly commended. It is suggested that English teachers formally discuss teaching strategies for different aspects of the course at some English meetings. This is because a range of very effective and interesting teaching strategies was in evidence during the evaluation.
First-year students currently study a novel or four short stories as part of their course. It is recommended that in future these students study both a novel and four short stories. The range and standard of novels varied from class to class with some novels being less challenging than others, especially for higher-level Junior Certificate students. Given that students in the school presented as being very good readers, it is recommended that some teachers review their choice of novel and ensure that they are suitably challenging for the student cohort as well as being appropriate for study at higher-level. All junior cycle students study a Shakespearean play, as is good practice. It is, however, recommended that English teachers teach more than one novel and play over the course of second and third year.
The TY English programme develops a range of skills among students. Students study a novel, film versions of this novel, and poetry. In addition, some teachers introduce other films and sometimes a novel onto the programme. This practice is to be encouraged among all English teachers and therefore another film or written text that can be compared to the studied novel is suggested for all class groups. The programme also aims to develop students’ oral and written language skills, which is commended.
The quality of teaching and learning observed in Loreto College was very good. There was evidence that students had covered a solid range of work in all genres since September.
A sense of continuity was established between what had been covered in previous lessons and the lessons observed, and also with what would be covered in the next lesson. The purpose of the lesson was explicitly stated from the outset in some lessons and could be inferred in others. It is recommended that teachers share the intended learning outcome with the students at the start of each lesson and establish with the students if this had been achieved at the end. In most cases, there was a clear structure to the lesson and the pace of the lesson was appropriate.
A range of effective teaching strategies was in evidence or reported by students. These strategies included dramatisation of texts, students listening to recordings of poems, students being shown images relating to their novel to reinforce learning, the use of props to develop ideas for stagecraft, discussion, illustrating texts, cross-curricular references being made, whole class teaching, and effective use of pair and group work. In addition, teachers are commended for other creative ideas to stimulate students’ interest in English, such as the creation of a poetry anthology of parents’ favourite poems, students’ writing a diary in first year, and the operation of a book club among students.
Of particular note during the inspection, was how well students listened to each other and to their teacher during each lesson. Students often assiduously recorded points made by their teachers and each other and the skills of listening, reading and writing were very well developed in all lessons. The skill of speaking was developed in most lessons although there were a couple of occasions when the student voice was absent for much of the lesson as there was too much teacher talk with the teachers telling as opposed to asking the students at times. In these cases, the students were active listeners and very good points were made by the teachers. However, it is recommended, in these cases, that teachers facilitate more student participation so that students learn from each other as well as from the teacher. Where such participation was observed it was developed through very effective questioning and through pair and group work. In all lessons, students engaged fully with the subject matter and were observed to be diligent and keen to learn. The board was used very well in most lessons to record key points made during the course of the lesson. Overall, the quality of student learning was very high.
Some very good examples of pair and group work were observed where students were given clear instructions on what to discuss and worked together co-operatively to achieve the specific task. Very good practice was seen in the structured nature of this work so that students had to spend a certain amount of time working together in groups and then giving feedback to the entire class which was recorded by the teacher on the board.
Questioning, when employed, was very effective and teachers made efforts to question all students. Best practice was seen when teachers asked questions of named individuals as opposed to only asking those with their hands up. There was generally very good use of higher-order questioning which elicited students’ response and encouraged students to think more clearly about what they were saying and studying. Good leading questions after introducing a new poem, for example, focused students and made them explore the poem more deeply. In addition, when students were set a number of focused questions on a piece of text and invited to share their answers with the class group, good discussion was generated.
Teachers integrated language and literature work so that students, for example, wrote diary entries or letters from the point of view of characters in studied texts and wrote newspaper articles on events in studied texts. This is very good practice as it allows students to see English as an integrated whole as opposed to a series of genre taught in isolation. Creative writing was encouraged and students had written their own poetry or had opportunities to write creative prose. In addition, teachers developed students’ vocabulary by encouraging them to think of words to capture particular situations and teachers used exemplars from literary texts to remind students of correct grammar and literary devices. This is very good practice. Links were also created between texts on similar themes, which is commended.
The focus on encouraging students’ personal response to literature is highly commended. The emphasis on students finding evidence to back up their points is also commended. It was clear that there was a deep exploration of themes and issues in studied texts from first year on so that students were able to discuss issues such as values, relationships, family life, war and other relevant themes.
English classrooms were stimulating learning environments with posters and a wide range of students’ work on display. Such work included students’ poems, key words, key quotes pertaining to their drama text, book covers designed by students on their novel, names of recommended books, project work, timelines on events in their novel and a range of other very interesting work by students on aspects of their course.
English teachers are commended for encouraging independent reading among their students, who are brought to the library once a fortnight. Very good strategies to encourage reading were observed or reported. These included students recommending books to each other, teachers recommending books to students, students reading extracts from their favourite books to the class group in celebration of World Book Day, students writing reviews of their books and teachers reading the opening pages of books to stimulate interest among students. Students themselves presented as very good readers.
Students also presented as being articulate and highly motivated. There was a very good sense of teacher-student and student-student co-operation and relationships in all classes were respectful and caring. In interaction with the inspector, it was clear that students had a very good knowledge of their course. Teachers displayed enthusiasm for their subject and their students which led to lively teaching.
Parents receive three formal reports a year on their daughters’ progress and there is a parent-teacher meeting held annually for each year group. At Christmas and Easter, these reports are based on continuous assessment of homework, class work, project work and class-based tests and in the summer the reports are based on formal examinations for non-exam classes. Parents of students in third and sixth year also receive reports after their daughter’s ‘mock’ examinations. These exams are externally marked. TY students submit work for a portfolio which they are assessed on through interview in the last term. English teachers set common examination papers with a commonly agreed marking scheme for summer examinations which is very good practice. There was evidence that these exams are suitably challenging for students. English teachers also conduct an analysis of state examination results in English. These results are excellent. The uptake of higher level is extremely high and students achieve very well in their chosen level.
The quality of students’ written work was very good and high standards were set by teachers and achieved by students in the school. Students’ work was well maintained, presented and organised in copies or folders. There was evidence that students receive plenty of purposeful written work in a range of genre and for a variety of audiences and that their work has improved over the school year. This work was sufficiently challenging for all students. Many assignments were imaginative and enjoyable for students. There was evidence that written work was collected and corrected regularly. In addition, teachers corrected students’ work to a high standard, with constructive, formative comments given to students on their work so that they could see where they needed to improve. The discrete criteria of assessment were used in some instances to correct longer pieces of work in fifth and sixth year which is good practice.
After-school study is offered to students. The school’s overall homework policy is comprehensive and commended. The English department has developed its own homework policy which outlines types of homework for all aspects of all English courses in the school. This too is commended as being very good practice.
The following are the main strengths identified in the evaluation:
· There is good whole school support for English.
· Students in the college benefit from a wide range of co-curricular activities pertaining to English.
· There is a strong focus on encouraging reading among students.
· There is a sense of collegiality among all English teachers. They collaborate to share resources and to develop the English programme for their students.
· The common English plan, written in terms of learning outcomes, informs the practice of all teachers and the aims of this plan are laudable. The plan ensures an incremental approach to learning for students in all year groups.
· English teachers presented as a committed, reflective and enthusiastic department.
· The quality of teaching observed in Loreto College was very good. A range of effective teaching strategies was in evidence.
· Students had covered a solid range of work since September in all genres.
· The skills of listening, reading and writing were very well developed in all lessons observed and the skill of speaking was developed in most lessons.
· Teachers integrated language and literature work and there was a focus on encouraging students’ personal response to literature.
· English classrooms were stimulating learning environments
· Students presented as being articulate and highly motivated and the quality of learning was high.
· There was a very good sense of teacher-student and student-student co-operation and relationships in all classes were respectful and caring.
· The uptake of higher level in state examinations is extremely high and students achieve very well in their chosen level.
· The quality of students’ written work was very good and high standards were set by teachers and achieved by students in the school. There was evidence that students receive plenty of written work in a range of genre and for a variety of audiences and that their work has improved over the school year.
As a means of building on these strengths and to address areas for development, the following key recommendations are made:
· The range of texts should be reviewed to include both a novel and short stories in first year, a suitably challenging novel for study at higher-level in the Junior Certificate and more than one novel and play over the course of second and third year. Another film or written text that can be compared to the studied novel is also suggested on the TY programme.
· It is recommended that teachers embed the practice of sharing the intended learning outcome with the students at the start of each lesson and establish with the students if this had been achieved at the end.
· In some cases, it is recommended that teachers facilitate more student participation in their lessons.
Post-evaluation meetings were held with the teachers of English and with the principal at the conclusion of the evaluation when the draft findings and recommendations of the evaluation were presented and discussed.
Published September 2008